By Jeff Seaborn, Chair, EAA Canada Council
Although flying the 1,500 miles from Calgary to Oshkosh isn’t as challenging as some routes over high mountains, or great expanses of water, the trip is always interesting.
I left Calgary on the Thursday morning prior to AirVenture. Since it had been three years since the Canadian Council had an official presence at AirVenture, some of us needed to get there early to inspect and set up at the Canadian tent before the crowds arrived.
Leaving a few days early also allowed me to take advantage of the good weather that was forecasted for the trip. In fact, the weather en route was ideal. With only a short line of rain showers as I crossed the border into the U.S., the rest of the trip was clear. I took advantage of the strong winds that gave me up to 50 mph tailwinds at 9,500 feet. Having a ground speed of over 200 mph in cruise is terrific. My sympathies to all those who had those winds as headwinds. I felt for my friends, Scott and Kirk, who were flying their Pietenpol and Acey Ducey from Ontario, past Detroit, and directly into that wind.
The flight home was certainly longer but much more interesting. Leaving immediately after the air show on Thursday provided me the chance to make it home by Friday evening for some family commitments. At least, that was the goal.
Typically, my first stop from Oshkosh is Stevens Point. It’s 25 minutes northwest of Oshkosh, directly in line with my route and it allows me to get out of the congestion and commotion of Oshkosh, fuel up at very reasonable rates, and then plan the rest of my trip legs from there.
Upon arriving at Stevens Point this year, I pulled up to the fuel pumps as a beautiful Bonanza pulled away. The owner of the Bonanza noted that I was from Canada and asked where I was heading. When I mentioned Calgary, he immediately invited me to follow him to his home airfield in Cumberland, promising it was right on the way. He offered to put me up in his hangar and I could stay at his lake cabin (a beautiful home). I hadn’t even gotten his name at this point. After some quick introductions and some directions, we took off and flew the hour to Cumberland, Wisconsin. I’m glad it was a short hop as I was landing just as the sun set. Chris had arrived 10 minutes before me and had his Bonanza in his hangar and was awaiting my arrival. My little bird was pushed into Chris’s hangar which by the way is the cleanest hangar it’s ever been in. I followed Chris in the airfield’s courtesy car and we drove into town, enjoyed a terrific pizza from a friendly neighbourhood restaurant, and then proceeded to Chris’s cabin. It was absolutely gorgeous and Chris was the most generous and gracious host.
Early the next morning we got up and returned to the airfield to prepare for my departure. Some early morning clouds delayed my departure by an hour or so but Chris was there the entire time ensuring that I was safely on the way. A big thanks for his support and generosity.
The weather that day was clear with only a slight headwind to slow my progress. As I approached the last 50 miles to Calgary, I could see some buildup and ugly weather ahead. From a little way out, I could see that I would be able to get within 10 miles of my home airfield but no closer.
I immediately thought of the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which was a popular hit on the radio in 1979, the first year I went to Oshkosh. As one of the lines in the song went, “The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay, if they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.”
I reflected on that line when I turned my airplane around and backtracked 40 miles to the airfield in Brooks. I chose Brooks since it was the closest airfield currently out of the storm that had fuel and a building to shelter in.
Upon arrival I fuelled up and considered my options. Could I wait out the storm and then sneak in behind it, before the sun set? Not long afterwards, the wind hit, soon followed by the rain. My tie-downs were buried under a week’s worth of dirty clothes and I wouldn’t be able to get them out in time. So, in the driving rain, I pushed my airplane to the lee of a hangar to reduce the exposure to the wind and huddled under the eaves.
Soon afterwards, Kelly from Quikway Air Services (yes, that’s the correct spelling) drove up. I’m sure he was curious who was foolish enough to be standing out in the wind and rain. After quick introductions, I was in the passenger seat of his truck as we drove to his hangar and shop. Upon looking at the weather and the remaining minutes of daylight, I knew I was spending the night there.
Kelly’s friendliness and generosity was fantastic. Kelly opened up his large hangar, and pushed an airplane back which gave me room to park my airplane at the front for the night. This would permit me to depart first thing in the morning before anyone else was around. Knowing I was going to spend the night on the couch in the terminal building, Kelly gave me some granola bars, some juices, and a delicious nectarine. Fresh fruit is so appreciated after a week of camp food. Kelly even offered to pick up some breakfast for me, but my plan was to depart early.
The next morning, I rose with the sun and was on my way in a few short minutes. The sky was clear and the air was smooth. Early morning flights are enjoyable but even more so when I reflected on the help and support I received from some terrific people along the way.